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Paul Coates -- Confidential File, January 2, 1959

January 2, 2009 |  4:00 pm

Puts Ego Factor Into Poll 

Paul Coates Tries Out New Survey-Taking Theory

Paul_coates_3 Now don't misunderstand me. 
I'm not looking to start anything with Mr. Gallup. There's enough petty bickering going on around here without us getting into a hassle.
Besides, he's bigger than I am. He could take one poll and consign me to oblivion or some other faraway place where columnists go when their readership ratings die.
But a kind of gnawing remnant of integrity forces me to state publicly that ever since the Literary Digest goofed I haven't put much faith in surveys.
The Ego Factor

Their flaw, I think, is that they fail to take into consideration the ego factor in all of us. 
If you go to a man's door with a clipboard in hand and ask: "Do you feel we should support Quemoy?" he's not likely to admit that he doesn't even know who Quemoy is.
At least. I'm not likely. And, except for a few spectacular neuroses having to do with things like early rejection feelings, toilet training and bottle feeding, I consider myself an average citizen.
And to us average citizens, ignorance is not bliss, it's embarrassing. We don't want any pollsters in Brooks Bros. suits putting us down as dopes. Ask us something about anything and we'll give you a carefully considered answer, even though we don't fully understand your question.
1959_0102_king_ro I'm firmly convinced for example, that when Mr. Gallup's doorknockers go around asking: "Do you think the President should attend a summit conference?" a majority of the people who give a "No" response are opposed on ground that the high altitude might be bad for Ike's health.
To test this theory, I formed a small survey company of my own. A couple of days ago my secretary and I polled 150 people in the county of Los Angeles.
Their names were selected from the phone book. The calls were made over a period of two days between the hours of 11 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., giving us a good sampling of housewife reaction.

  Want to Repeal

After identifying ourselves as the "Los Angeles Survey Institute" and inquiring if the voice at the other end was a registered voter, we pose the question:
"Do you think the Mann Act deters or helps the cause of organized labor -- and if you feel it deters, would you vote for its repeal?"
The results are in. And they're astonishing. 
It will shake the very foundations of the PTA to learn that 38% of American housewives want to repeal the Mann Act which, since 1910, has made it socially unacceptable and highly illegal to take a woman across state lines for immoral purposes.

A percentage breakdown is as follows: 
38% -- For repeal of the Mann Act. 
10% -- Opposed to repeal. 
28% -- Don't know anything about it. 
6% -- Don't know enough about it. 
12% -- Either know the Mann Act or suspect it has something to do with white slavery.
4% -- Can't be bothered 
2% -- Never discuss politics. 

One lady said we got her out of the bathtub. We didn't bother to make her a statistic. 

Some of Replies

1959_0102_freeway The reasons given by those in favor or against repeal indicate the public temper of our times. Or something equally fraught with meaning. Here, for the benefit of any sociologists among you, are a few of the ladies' replies:

- "We need the Mann Act. Labor would just go wild without it." 

- "It should definitely be repealed. My husband's in the union and I'm for anything that helps the working man."

- "Repeal the Mann Act? Dearie, don't you know what the Mann Act is?"

- "I haven't been feeling too good lately, so I haven't kept up with what's in the papers."

- "Yes, it should be repealed. We're strictly against that act in our family."

- "I don't know what it is. Is it a socialist thing? Then we should get rid of it."

- "No. It certainly should not be repealed. Hoffa gets away with too much as it is."

- "I have no opinion. I don't care what they do about the Mann Act. They're all a bunch, of grafters, anyway."
In all fairness, I should point out that since my survey company was a fly-by-night organization we were not as thorough as we could have been. We didn't sample representative racial groups, economic levels or educational backgrounds.
The only other question we asked was each participant's age, which came to an average of 25 years. But, since we were surveying women, I don't believe that either.